But as a kid largely ignorant of grander sociological forces, aliens were only one thing: scary. They had large black eyes and androgynous forms. And they were real — like ghosts and witches and monsters. In daylight, I was sceptical (the good little rationalist), but night-time brought with it a tide of magical thinking. I used to lie in bed and worry that maybe I would be abducted. I would even make supplicating promises of better behaviour in the hope of bartering with these outsiders — ‘I’ll be good, just leave me alone.’ In my secular progressive household, aliens offered a moral disciplining authority, an invisible spectator to police my actions.
sick of innovation jargon? “get out of the box…as children know sometimes boxes are very hard to get out of.”
I became an urban someone
Only to desire a rural unknowing
The packing of the Self for social integration
Disgust at the artifacts of acknowledgment
Grow weary. And wish upon another.
Transcend this mundane binary.
My farmer is wearing fur and pearls.
We’re being forever driven forward by advances in Silicon Valley. But what if some technology could help keep us rooted in a more human-centered past?
Part performance art, part sermon — the Amish Futurist is a believer in the power of buttermilk.
A guest blog post I did for WFMU as part of their RadioVision Festival last year. It was one of the best events I’ve been to full of lovely and soothing radio voices!
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time in archives reading pamphlets written by 17th century pseudo-scientists: alchemists, astrologers, and hobby scientists. One thing I came to learn was that it was these freaks and rebels, these “deviants” that came to inform the boundaries of what came to be defined as modern science. In a similar vein, WFMU’s 2012 Radiovision Festival seemed to have an analogous logic at work – bring in the folks operating on the fringes and see how they might be able to re-invent or provide interesting musings on radio. So while it wasn’t alchemists and astrologers, the Festival, deliciously curated by WFMU’s Ben Walker, brought together pirates, hackers, occupiers and nomadic storytellers to explore the mighty question, what’s next for radio?
The festival kicked off with maker / DIY extraordinaire Mark Fraunfelder, founder of Boing Boing and Make Magazine. Mark noted that the maker movement was for him, and for many others, primarily about self-reliance, but at a deeper level also about self-expression.
While less of an apologist, some of Mark’s comments reminded me of Sociologist Richard Sennett who outlines in his book The Craftsman the intrinsic pleasure associated with the act of making. What Sennett and the modern maker movement have in common is a vision for broadening the realm of DIY craftsmanship. Both also seem to link this renewed maker spirit with an active kind of citizenship. It might sound a bit magical: does a good maker translate into a good citizen? Well, maybe not yet, but it’s the first step really, it’s about people’s empowerment. The empowerment that comes along with do-it-yourself.
Over time, I think the maker movement really will become a force for good in the world. It’s a movement that can provide a new script for how we engage in the economy, not as consumers, but as producers, as active shapers of the economy itself. If makers turn their attention to re-thinking how we create primary commodities and services like food, energy, and healthcare, particularly at a local level, then the force of the movement could be really disruptive. We would not only be able to reduce our dependence on large corporations, but we would be in control of our own economic destiny. It’s an appealing vision, but one that we haven’t yet fully realized.
Moving from the maker movement, which is all about democratizing making, we encountered those working to democratize radio and storytelling itself. We heard from rogue journalist Tim Pool, who, with no background in journalism and merely armed with a cell phone, YouTube and Twitter, provided real-time coverage of Occupy Wall Street.
We also heard from The Guardian’s multimedia editor Francesca Panetta whose pet project, Hackney Hear, brings the stories of local residents, musicians, and writers into a guided tour experience of London Fields in East London. Hackney Hear is truly an off the grid experience, allowing listeners to “choose their own adventure” while walking through Hackney and receiving GPS-linked audio stories on their mobile phones. The stories range from a local resident talking about a first kiss to a photographer talking about the squatter scene from the 80s.
Having lived in Hackney when I first moved to London, it is easy to see how Francesca chose this area as fertile ground for her storytelling efforts. Hackney is in no small part a massive source of inspiration for The Misfit Economy. Having encountered drug dealers, squatters, young artist provocateurs, and small informal businesses all within this tiny microcosm of East London, it’s where my first interest in alternative economies was piqued.
While I didn’t directly speak about the misfit economies of Hackney, my contribution at Radiovision was to explore, along with Swedish Pirate Party leader Anna Troberg, the lessons and insights that pirates could provide us about radio. Anna was incredibly refreshing. Wearing jeans and touting her love for Lady Gaga, Anna spoke about the Pirate Party values of integrity, privacy, and freedom of speech. All values that the Pirates had initially used to forge an agenda for internet freedoms, but are now becoming more expansive to tackle a wider agenda as the party develops its political influence. To complement Anna, I spoke about old school “arrr” pirates and what we could learn from their models of self-governance, egalitarianism, and underground brands. I also managed to make fun of Proust.
Later during a coffee break, I had the great fortune of meeting Aengus Anderson whose radio series Two Wheels to Nowhere explores the authentic underbelly of America, giving voice to the philosophic stirrings of a culture all too silenced by a dominant national discourse in which nothing ever appears to be said or meant. Aengus self-described as “an unremarkable guy with an audio-recorder” provides a perfect offsetting voice to this election season. He reminds us that as Americans we’re all not quite as dumb as politicians think we are.
With storytelling radio-enthusiasts like Aengus in the audience, it’s refreshing to remember that people are all still capable of authenticity. That even though we’re surrounded by so many toxic narratives and over-hyped sound bites, that radio is still a place to come for a little bit of human transcendence. As T.S. Eliot famously said, “All significant truths are private truths. As they become public they cease to become truths; they become facts, or at worst, catchwords.” In my mind, what good radio resurrects is the courage to express and indulge in private truths and unformed narratives; particularly, at a time, when our public language and capacity for storytelling has never been more impoverished. It’s why we have to grope for authenticity in those courageous outliers – the makers, pirates, and occupiers, who provide us with a muse for re-educating ourselves in the ways of being human.
I was on Martha’s Vineyard recently and had the great fortune of taking a writer’s workshop with Nancy Aronie. The class focused on memoir - and letting everything spill out. Here is a short excerpt from something I wrote about seeing President Obama.
The hardest thing is seeing Obama. Waiting to catch a glimpse of him. The real hardest thing is what your mother says to you after seeing Obama, “why can’t you be more like Obama?”
Because in youth, out of all my brothers, I was the one marked for political destiny. They got to go to meditation retreats, to take time off school - gap years where they play at shepherding New Zealand sheep. While I get this torch. The torch of ancestors’ half-fulfilled destinies. The torch of fossilizing our family in history.
In the last year I’d come to think that ambition hollows everything out. Chissels away at the potentiality of being. You become a linear narrative, imprisoned in a certain rehearsal of yourself. Hadn’t I made progress? Casting off this prison?
Ten feet from Obama I whispered to my mother, “Look how tired he looks. He’s really exhausted.” And I thought in the stillness of our paparazzi position, “Why would my mother want to inflict that kind of skeleton existence on me?”
I’d come so far in deconstructing my messianic instincts. And now all the raw spirit of wishful martyrdom was flowing back into my being. With ambition comes this flow of confidence. It an easy trail to ride. Decisions are crispy and straight. It is also a kind of prostitution, giving away the rhythm of your life.
“You’re a gladiator.” My mother declared.
“Don’t you feel American?” she inquired.
“It’s your destiny.” She proclaimed.
Maybe my mother was right. Maybe I was repressing the warrior within, living only a fraction of myself. I stewed over each of her probing statements, rotating them in my mind and picking them apart for any latent meeting.
That night, still without closure, my Mom conceded that she would have to look at my astrological chart again. Then we could properly deduce whether I was cut out for the role. I yearned for the occult symbols of my horoscope to offer a definitive rendering. To endorse my candidacy or release me from the burden I’ve felt since youth: the gnawing reality that my life was not my own.